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The Rise of Performative Activism

Content warning for mentions of war, genocide and racial discrimination as well as links to said topics

Black and white image of person, shadows hiding their face as they extend their hand to the camera
Photo by Lalesh Aldarwish on Pexels

The call to help others is an innate power of the human race. We can understand and care about people even if we haven't experienced the same things they have. Empathy unites us. With it, we can make powerful changes.

In the past few years, there has been a deeper understanding of global social issues. The youth, in particular, engaged the most. Climate change is becoming more rampant, minorities are still discriminated against and wars and genocides ravage other countries. A spark has been ignited within all of us to take a stand and ensure everyone is entitled to their human rights.

We've seen a lack of empathy within those in power and a bias within mainstream news, reluctant to talk about the serious and systemic issues happening in the world. Tabloids such as the Daily Mail are notorious for their polarising manner of reporting on issues and unsubtly expressing discrimination against certain groups such as Muslims, enabling the possible Islamophobia of their readers.

Social Media's Positive Impact

Social media has become an outlet that reveals social issues we otherwise wouldn't have known about, an amplifier for the voices of minorities to speak about the systemic abuse they face. It also provides an antithesis to the mainstream news, exposing the biases of Western media.

Social media has only propelled our knowledge and awareness, building communities to stand in solidarity and send support to those who need it, and informing others how they can assist. It has created a space where people can come together and organise gatherings or functions to help rally a cause.

The year 2020 only further exacerbated the desire to stand up for change, with multiple social movements taking place. More and more people were introduced to activism and the actions they can take to help make a difference. The world came together to take a stand against police brutality, racism and multiple other issues. Multiple protests took centre stage all over the world for the black lives taken as a result of police brutality.

The Salt In the Sugar

However, with social media bringing light to social issues comes performative activism.

A single repost.

A single tweet.

A single hashtag.

It's easy to say the right thing and move on. Many people only talk about an issue because everyone else is. They're more worried about presenting as a good person instead of doing a good deed. Many during the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement remained silent, only coming out of their hole to post a black square one Tuesday or completely stopped talking about the issue altogether once things had died down.

This wasn't the only instance either where we've seen this. Other movements such as Stop Asian Hate, the genocide of Palestinians and more recently the war in Ukraine all were the talk of the town at some point but eventually interest in them wavered and the public discussion paused even though the horrors are still very much alive to this day: Palestinians are still facing discrimination and racism is still at large.

Another aspect of this is people talking about specific issues whilst ignoring others that are just as prevalent and horrifying due to the fact they aren't popular.

People use social media only to inform themselves of injustices and won't research outside of it. Fake news and misinformation roam rampant on social media and we must verify all that we find on it. It's easy to get sucked into lies and blame someone or something that wasn't doing anything wrong in the first place.

Social Justice has become "cool" with people only reading a couple of posts on social media about an issue, reposting and then calling it a day. Only reposting an infographic isn't enough. Whilst yes, it spreads awareness and provides a resource for those who don't have the privilege of education, that act alone can't solve the issue.

Many don't engage in further research, sign petitions, attend protests, donate to the cause, contact local politicians or continue to inform themselves of an issue well after everyone else no longer talks about it. Granted not all of these actions are attainable for an individual and that's fine, not everyone has the money to donate or find the time to attend a protest but an effort should be made to do more than share a hashtag.

Realistically it's impossible to constantly keep up to date with everything happening in the world, to truly dedicate yourself to every cause, especially with something new happening almost every day. That doesn't mean we should stop caring or that we shouldn't offer our support when we can. It just means we should be more mindful about whether or not we truly are taking actions that generate a positive and constructive change.


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